An ambulance officer alleged to have stood naked in front of a colleague while trying to kiss her on a fishing trip said he was bewildered by the accusation and heartbroken by the dismissal from work that followed.
Lower Hutt man Michael Bolton, 69, was fired from his team leader role at the Wellington Free Ambulance after the colleague complained he had sexually harassed and assaulted her on a day out on his boat.
This week Bolton was awarded $37,000 for lost wages and hurt and humiliation by the Employment Relations Authority which found the investigation by WFA was biased and Bolton was unjustifiably dismissed.
"I'm very happy - it wasn't about the money, it was about the fact I didn't do it," Bolton said.
"During the investigation, I was wondering what was happening - It was like heading to the dairy for a bottle of milk and then all of a sudden the FBI is chasing you - it was that bewildering."
Bolton, a keen boatie, told the ERA he had invited the woman and a group of friends out on his boat to go fishing.
The trip was arranged for November 18, 2017 but the other invited guests couldn't make it.
The pair were returning home after catching fish and the woman spotted a wetsuit and asked Bolton if they could get some paua.
"It's a 20-foot boat and the cabin is too small to get changed in," Bolton told the Herald.
"I was at the stern getting in my wetsuit and she turned around and saw me with no clothes on."
Bolton said everything else the woman said happened after that was untrue. There was no comment, no attempt to kiss, he said.
The weather worsened and the paua dive was abandoned so the pair returned to shore and the woman invited Bolton to her home where they filleted the fish and had a hot drink.
The next day the woman sent a text containing a photo of a meal she had prepared
using the fish.
Bolton said there was no mention of any incident on the boat.
But in a text on November 22 the woman said she was upset that Bolton had "hugged and kissed me whilst naked on the boat."
Bolton replied and said: "I am so sorry. I let you down on Saturday and I have no excuse. I am not a good person. But please come back to work, talk to me. I care about our friendship. Sorry Sorry Sorry."
Bolton told the Herald his hasty response was because he was worried about the woman's mental health rather than that he was implicating himself in anything.
Bolton had no idea of WFA's concerns until March 5 when he received a telephone call from his line manager asking that the two meet urgently.
He was handed a letter to advise he was to attend a disciplinary meeting and told why.
Bolton said he felt the case against him was predetermined and WFA ignored discrepancies in the woman's version of events.
The ERA investigation was to find whether WFA followed the correct procedure - not determine what actually happened on the boat.
It found there were issues with the WFA's handling of the case. The largest was the extent of the inquiry into what happened on the boat.
Evidence showed there were inconsistencies in the woman's recital of events.
Other issues included Bolton not being provided with all of the information the WFA had and also the indication of predetermination with the revelation the woman was told "If you say it happened we will believe you it happened."
The ERA found WFA failed to take all reasonable steps to obtain relevant information and test major discrepancy.
The ERA ordered the non-publication of any details that might identify the woman because of her tenuous mental health and because she did not play a role in the investigation.
The sudden loss of his job was soul-destroying,Bolton said.
"I loved my job. I loved the people, the paramedics... I loved going to work and making a difference," he said.
"It is still an amazing company apart from that part of the culture that needs to change."
He said the toughest thing about the dismissal was the impact on his wife of 45 years.
"They personalised it and brought it into my home, to my family," he said.
"I hurt my wife badly."
Bolton was now semi-retired and had some work as a medical safety officer for film and television work.
He said the support of his family and friends had got him through.
"They have been amazing, my friends and colleagues have been amazing. The support has been fantastic."
"I am spending time with my wife and family and getting on with life."